how do I choose a legal recruiter

By Barbara Levenson Schweitzer

Whether you’re an employer or a job seeker, it’s very important that you select a legal recruiter who represents you, your law firm, or your company, in the best possible way. Sounds obvious, right? So how do you choose a legal recruiter?

What happens when I work with a legal recruiter?

If you graduated from a top law school and are with a top law firm or company, chances are that you have received calls and emails from legal recruiters. Law firms and companies often engage the services of legal recruiters to put the word out that they are hiring lateral attorneys. They need someone who can step in and do the job and they are looking for specific skills and experience. Unless otherwise noted, the employer does not want to retool someone whose background is not a fit. They are busy and want to make sure that their current team doesn’t get overworked. Therefore, they are going to interview far fewer candidates than they would if they were hiring a class of summer associates or interns.

The client is the law firm or company that wants to hire an attorney. The candidate is the attorney who is looking for a job. The client pays the legal recruiting fee. The client sets the parameters for the types of candidates they will consider.

The majority of legal searches are contingency-based searches, i.e. the recruiter only gets paid if they fill the job. Some searches are retained, i.e. the recruiter gets a percentage of the fee upfront and the remainder throughout various stages of the search, culminating with the final payment once a candidate is hired. You want to make sure that the legal recruiter you’re working with isn’t putting their own interests before yours. It’s VERY important that you have an actual conversation (as opposed to relying on email) with a recruiter before you agree to work with them.

Since the pandemic, employers are interviewing by phone and Zoom, and conducting business the same way. You need to be comfortable talking on the phone. Talking with a recruiter by phone is a good way for both of you to get to know each other, and a good way to practice your phone skills.

I have been a legal recruiter for the past 31 years. During this time, I have spoken with countless numbers of attorneys over the phone. I have a very good sense about people and how they could come across during their interviews. I always schedule phone calls with my candidates to prepare them for every stage of the interviewing process. I try to anticipate what they will be asked, and I address any questions or concerns that they may have. I speak with my clients to make sure that I know exactly what they are looking for. I try to ensure that I’m presenting candidates who meet their needs/qualifications, and who will be a good cultural fit.

The Top 5 Questions that you should ask when you’re picking a legal recruiter:

  1. How long have you been a legal recruiter?
  2. How does the process work?
  3. Do I have to work with you exclusively?
  4. Have you ever had a breach of confidentiality?
  5. What happens if I accept a job and it’s not the right fit? What happens if we hire someone and they are not the right fit?

If you are a candidate and you find out that your legal recruiter sent your materials without your authorization, stop working with that recruiter. If you are a client and you find out that a legal recruiter submitted a candidate without authorization, refuse to accept that recruiter’s submission.

Legal recruiters who make unauthorized submissions are banking on the fact you will proceed despite their tactics. If you are a candidate, an unethical recruiter assumes that you won’t “spite yourself” by declining an interview for a job you want. If you are a client and you find out that a candidate you want to interview was submitted without prior authorization, you have the power to stop that type of behavior by not paying a recruiting fee for that candidate. If the candidate wants to proceed, make it clear to the recruiter that you will be interviewing the candidate, and that the recruiter is not entitled to a fee. Make sure that your fee agreement expressly states this as well.

Before I make submissions on behalf of my candidates, I email them a list of the places that I want to approach. I instruct them to email me back with the names of the places where they want me to submit their materials. Once I receive their permission, I send a confirming email indicating the names of the places I will be approaching. Not only does this prevent any misunderstandings, but also we both have a written record of the places they have authorized.

Attorneys are paid for their discretion and knowledge, and so are legal recruiters.

If you are an employer, you need to make sure that the recruiter representing your team understands your hiring criteria, and what makes your firm or company a great place to work. The recruiter should be a positive reflection on your organization. Make sure that anyone contacting prospective employees for your team is someone you’re comfortable with. Trust your gut. If someone seems shady, don’t work with them. If someone sends you unauthorized submissions, don’t accept them. Only work with recruiters who send you great candidates with their authorization.

Job seekers, it is not in your best interest to work with multiple recruiters for your job search. When you conduct your job search with multiple recruiters, the likelihood of a breach of confidentiality increases significantly.

The last thing you want is for your current employer to find out that you are looking for a job before you are ready to give notice. Employers have no interest in getting involved in a fee dispute if more than one recruiter submits your materials. It’s easier for an employer to reject a candidate than to deal with a potential fee dispute. You need to be in charge of your job search. Multiple submissions reflect poorly on you. If you can’t manage your job search, how can an employer trust you to manage your client matters?

A Hiring Partner once confided to me that he had received a resume from a legal recruiter for an associate already working at his firm. The Hiring Partner was kind enough to tell the associate that he knew the associate was looking for a new job because the associate’s legal recruiter had sent the him the associate’s resume. The Hiring Partner assured the associate this would stay between them, but as you can imagine, the associate felt very uncomfortable. I think it’s safe to assume that this recruiter did not ask for permission to send the associate’s resume. Who would authorize a submission to their own firm? Nonetheless, the associate’s job security was compromised by an unethical/sloppy recruiter.

My company does not demand exclusivity from our candidates, although exclusivity is preferred and appreciated. By the same token, if someone is working with several other recruiters and wants me to represent them, I don’t have an incentive to make their search a top priority. More recruiters, more problems. I want to be part of the solution.

Choosing the right recruiter is one of the most important career decisions you will ever make. Choose wisely.

Barbara Levenson Schweitzer is a Principal with Levenson Schweitzer Attorney Placement. She has been a legal recruiter in California since 1989. Barbara can be reached at:

Barbara Levenson Schweitzer

Barbara Levenson Schweitzer

President, Levenson Schweitzer, Inc.

A California legal recruiter with 31 years of experience.